Slade’s Girls’ School
Though this boarding school for girls only operated for a short time in Great Linford, the institution is an important one in the history of Milton Keynes, having first being situated across the county border in Northampton town, then the Buckinghamshire village of Hanslope, followed by several years in Great Linford and finally moving to Stony Stratford, where it eventually found a permanent home at York House. It might also be surprising to learn that while in Great Linford, the school prestigiously operated from the Manor House, then known as Great Linford Place.
Ann Adams, Headmistress
The founder and headmistress of the school was named Ann Adams, born October 1st, 1829 in Hanslope to Samuel and Sarah. Her father was a farmer, and it appears a Baptist non-conformist, as Ann was baptised as such. However, in later life Ann seems to have rejected her father’s faith and embraced the established church, as an additional baptism record under her maiden name occurred on December 21st, 1862 at Hanslope, when she was 32. Ann also seems rather oddly to have adopted the name Agnes sometime after 1862, relegating Ann to a middle name; perhaps a path she took with her shift in religious allegiance.
Early beginnings in Northampton
She had married in 1849 to an agricultural engineer and wheelwright named Edward Slade, also of Hanslope, but shortly afterward we find them on the 1851 census living in the Newland area of Northampton, where Ann has already found her vocation, as she is described as a School Mistress. Also living in the household is Ann’s 15 year old sister Jemina, a School Assistant; presumably they both worked together at the same school. At the time, education was a fragmentary affair with much gender discrimination against girls, and what educational opportunities existed for the poor largely provided charitably. For those who had some resources but not the funds to send their children to the elite private schools, there were a large number of privately run institutions to choose from, often run from personal homes and offering variable degrees of quality in terms of education. While we do not know for sure from the 1851 census if Ann and her sister were either working at or running one of these schools, we do know that Ann had definitely struck out on her own by 1853, as a Trade Directory for Northampton published that year by Thomas Philips, lists Ann Slade as the proprietor of a boarding and day school at Newland. Given she was at Newland in both 1851 and 1853, it does suggest the school was her own in 1851, an impressive achievement at the time for a woman of just 22.
Wiglands School at Hanslope
By the time of the 1861 census, Ann and her husband are back in Hanslope, at Hales Folly Farm, Wiglands, where Ann is continuing to run a boarding school for girls, with 4 pupils; one born in Hanslope, two in Stoke Goldington, and one from Northampton. The pupils ranged in age from 13 to 15. By 1871 (where we first find Ann calling herself Agnes), the school appears to be thriving, now with 17 boarders, including one child born in South Africa and a German born teaching assistant.
Arrival at Great Linford
The 1881 census shows that the school had now moved to Great Linford, but when might the Slades actually have arrived in the village? The last mention of the school at Hanslope so far discovered is an announcement in the Northampton Mercury Newspaper of Saturday 25th July 1874, that the pupils of the School (called here Wiglands Ladies’ school), are to reassemble on the 28th that same month. A list of local electors in September 1876 places The Reverend William Andrewes Uthwatt at Great Linford Place, but he passed away shortly afterwards on September 20th 1877, so it seems entirely likely that we can pinpoint the arrival of the Slades to sometime soon after this. Narrowing the date slightly more, the first verifiable sign of the school being established at Great Linford manor house is to be found in the Buckingham Express of Saturday 17th January 1880, in which it is announced that, “Mrs Slade, assisted by a resident French Governess, will resume studies with her pupils on Tuesday, the 27th instant.”`
The school still seems to be doing relatively well in 1881, as the census for Great Linford shows that there are 12 pupils, a teacher of German and French from Cologne, a teacher of drawing, a lady’s domestic help, a cook and a housemaid. Ann’s 81 year old mother is also resident. Incongruously, there is one male child list, 13 year old Grenville Green, who appears to have found a place as he was a brother to Emily Green, the 18 year old teacher of drawing. It is not however clear if he was taught at Slades, or had perhaps enrolled at St. Andrew's on the High Street. Ann’s husband Edward meanwhile has reinvented himself as a farmer of 14 acres, employing 1 boy. This does suggest that either he wasn’t prepared to be a kept man, or the family finances were perilous enough to necessitate an additional income, though it does give rise to the humorous notion of Ann striving to keep the two worlds of manual labour and genteel living and instruction at a distance from each other. Did she require her husband to use the tradesman’s entrance in order to keep up appearances? This may however be doing Edward a disservice, as he was active on the Hanslope School board in the 1870s, so seemed to share Ann’s passion for education.
It should also be noted of course that the Slades were nowhere near wealthy enough to have purchased the Manor; they were renting from the Uthwatts, (in 1902 they would rent York House and it’s lands in Stony Stratford for £50 per annum, which perhaps gives an idea of the rent likely have been paid to the Uthwatts) and it was the termination of this arrangement that was to cut short their occupation in Great Linford just a few years later.
Departing Great Linford
In 1883, the Buckingham Express of Saturday 27 January that year carried the announcement of an auction, “by direction of Mr Edward Slade on account of the family of the late Mr E.A Uthwatt wishing to reside at the mansion.”
The auction particulars give a fascinating insight into the accoutrements of their life, including a, drawing room suite in Walnut and figured Damask, 2 Pianofortes, music stools, several mahogany 4 post and iron beds and a great deal of kitchen and dairy essentials, plus 20 head of poultry. One of the more interesting items in the sale are a number of oleographs, which are prints textured to appear like an oil painting, which gives a hint that the school was intent on creating an impression of wealth and prestige, while perhaps lacking the funds to own the real things. Why they would have chosen to dispose of so many useful items rather than take them with them to their new school is something of a puzzle, though perhaps downsizing was a factor, or more likely the expense and difficulty of moving a great number of possessions by horse and cart made it more economical to have cash in hand and start afresh elsewhere.
Clearly the school was unlikely to attract boarders from the upper echelons of society, rather it seems the pupils were the children of aspiring members of the merchant and farming classes, unable to afford the bigger private schools, but looking to educate their children to a higher standard than the common person, and as a symbol of their success. Siblings Emily, Florence and Grenville Green were the children of a Draper and Grocer. Minnie Adam’s father was a Baker and Publican, Annie Bull was the daughter of a Master Butcher, Florence Newton’s father was a Printer & Stationer Employing 5 Men & 4 Boys, while Helen and Mary Townsend and Gertrude Jefferson were farmer’s daughters.
How Ann went about finding her fee-paying pupils is another matter. With a few exceptions, her students were from Buckinghamshire and adjacent counties, but in these early years, other than occasionally announcing the start of new terms in various newspapers, there is no obvious sign of advertising, so one must presume she relied primarily on word of mouth and referrals, and surely a well-earned reputation as a good place of learning. But what were the students taught? Clearly French, German and drawing figured in the curriculum, and the sale of two Pianofortes during the 1883 move certainly implies that music was taught.
Onward to Stony Stratford
Upon their departure from Great Linford The Slades and their young charges headed for Stony Stratford, where they established York House School at 77 High Street (Now the Conservative Club.) We get a better idea from this period of the school ethos, as by now Ann was clearly confident enough to advertise. Hence in an advertisement placed April 20th, 1889 in the Buckingham Express, we learn the school undertakes preparations for local exams, and that, “every kindness and indulgence is accorded to the pupils, and no undue pressure allowed.”
Ann died in 1892 and the school passed to her only son Edward Adams Slade and his wife Adeline, who became the headmistress. In 1905 they moved on to Clarence House on the London Road, Stony Stratford, which they renamed York House. The building is still in use to this day as a community centre. Ann’s passing on June 7th, 1892 was clearly one marked with much local sadness and respect, with a newspaper account of the time describing large numbers turning out to line Stony Stratford High Street as her funeral procession passed by.
She seems a remarkable woman, and while her presence in Great Linford was a short one of only a few years, you cannot help but think her arrival at the Manor House with her refined lady charges must have been quite an event for the village, and perhaps especially for the young lads of the parish.
List of students and staff at Great Linford Place from the Census of 1881